Written by Paul Monticone
Although not programmed together in this series, Japanese master Kenji Mizoguchi and citoyen du monde Max Ophuls share much in common. Both filmmakers were born at the turn of the century, and each died before he turned sixty, just as the international art cinema was entering its heyday. Each often worked in genres associated with womenâ€”Ophuls in the melodrama and Mizoguchi in its Japanese analogue, adaptations from shinpa theatre. Both filmmakers are regarded as mature, baroque artists, probably because they are known primarily through their late period films (in Mizoguchiâ€™s case, the majority of his early work is lost), but both were active during the transition to talking pictures, making films when the vagaries of early synchronized sound briefly made the long take the artâ€™s norm. Perhaps it was at this time that Mizoguchi and Ophuls developed an affinity for the device, which became a cornerstone in the distinctive and renowned style of each master. A series celebrating high-brow cinephiliaâ€”which Janus Films undeniably representsâ€”is certainly occasion for a note that is purely formalist in its concerns, so, at the exclusion of their complex themes and fascinating biographies, I offer some notes on how we might value the contribution of Mizoguchi and Ophuls to the art form today.